This review was way harder than I thought it would be, and took me months longer than it should have. After all, I’m familiar with the story and have played several routes, usually at this point I have very strong opinions about a game! But Harutoki 6 is different. I can’t decide whether it’s good or just ok, and how much my own experience and biases play into my judgment. But first, an intro on the game itself:
Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 6 is the latest console otome game from Koei’s Neoromance line. As you can guess from the title number, Harutoki goes back a long way, and the last 4 games have all had RPG gameplay, making it one of the few otome games completely outside the visual novel genre.
The story is based on the ‘girl swept away to another world’ trope, and it’s always to a world similar to historical Japan, but with major differences (often the difference is that there’s magic / demons around). The girl is hailed as the priestess of the guardian dragon (Ryuu no Miko), and gets eight hachiyou, or guardians. There are two guardian dragaons, the White Dragon (Hakuryuu), and Black Dragon (Kokuryuu), with one priestess for each.
In the past, the heroine has always been the White Dragon Priestess, with the power to put demons at peace and purify objects/places. For the first time ever, in this game you play the Black Dragon Priestess, with the power to hear demons, control and quiet them, but not to fully exorcise them. This position has been there since the beginning, sometimes as an enemy, sometimes as an ally (can’t remember if #4 had it though…). It changes the dynamic a lot, since you can never really ‘save’ the demons. Also, you don’t get all your guardians until very late – for half the game you’re playing with four, and half you’re playing with the other four. Only near the very end can you choose from all your guardians (your party is you, and up to two of your guardians).
The gameplay is also changed. Harutoki is one of the few otome game series to have actual combat gameplay, though it’s always turn-based. It used to be straight RPG, but in 6 it includes some strategy RPG/cardgame features, like playing on a grid and having to be tactical about where your characters move. You can also use demons in combat as extra party members. Some gameplay is familiar though, such as choosing locations on a map to activate character events necessary to move forward in their routes. You only get a set number of moves in a day, and if there’s no specific event at a location, you gather up cards of certain elements to level up your characters, or battle monsters of a certain element (this is where you collect demon cards to deploy later).
And of course, through all this, you’re increasing your affection by fighting alongside your companions and completing their events successfully.
For an otome game, this is a fairly complex system, and it’s pretty fun to go around gathering cards and leveling up your characters. Not only are monsters cards, but your characters are as well – and after certain events (or getting an ending), you get pumped-up versions of your character cards with different specialties and elements. Based on the gameplay, I’d definitely recommend this to otome fans who are bored with visual novels.
But in terms of the story and romance, I’m not sure how I feel. The tradeoff from having lots of fun combat and choice in what you do is that the story doesn’t always flow smoothly. And depending on the character, events might feel very spaced out.
The story as well is on a smaller scale than previous games, which were set during famous wars or even mythic times. This is set in the Taisho era, which is really nice to have a different flavour than all the games set during the Bakumatsu (ahem #5), but it means the tensions are more political and less military, more below the surface. They did a good job making it suspenseful, but it’s a bit frustrating, once you know who the ‘bad guy’ is, to not be able to just go and beat him up to stop him. The story is fairly dark too, there’s a side character who dies which I was kind of upset that there’s no way to save him.
All of the combat and politics can make the romance feel marginalized. If you just came from a game like Amnesia, for example (BTW, I need to review that as soon as I’m finished it!), with a very intense, tight focus on the heroine and only a couple other characters and their interpersonal drama, Harutoki can feel overly broad. On the other hand, some of the routes are quite angsty when you pay attention to each scene. One thing I never worry about with Harutoki is feeling like the writers are just repeating things or explaining too much to pad the story. Also, there is an option to skip battles you’ve done before, so the only one you really need to get through is the final one.
The characters are:
Darius (CV: Suzumura Kenichi) – the head of the oni clan
Rudo Harne (CV: Tachibana Shinnosuke) – his right-hand man
Honjou Masatora (CV: Takemoto Eiji) – hired muscle, half oni/half human
Kohaku (CV: Abe Atsushi) – a human with amnesia and cursed markings
Arima Hajime (CV: Okiayu Ryoutarou) – the commander of the group fighting the demons
Katagiri Shuuhei (CV: Okamoto Nobuhiko) – his right-hand man
Hagio Kudan (CV: Shitanda Michael) – a seer who summoned the miko
Satoya Murasame (CV: Yasumoto Hiroki) – an author and detective
So far, my favourite route is the amoral, obnoxious goon on the right here:
Buut that’s probably just because he’s my type. Shuuhei was also very good!
So, with all of these features and caveats, in the end, can I recommend Harutoki 6? I did enjoy it a lot myself. I think my main reservation is that I wouldn’t recommend it for someone’s first Harutoki. The importance of the Hakuryuu, the frustration of not being able to purify demons, and the suspense of waiting to get hachiyou are all diminished if you’ve never played this series before. But I do recommend it for anyone who’s looking for a different kind of otome game in terms of gameplay, and definitely if you’ve played other Harutoki games, I think you’ll enjoy this one.